Notch steers Drosophila ISNb motor axons by regulating the Abl signaling pathway.
The central problem in axon guidance is to understand how guidance signals interact to determine where an axon will grow. Here we investigate a specific axon guidance decision in Drosophila embryos, the sharp inward turn taken by the ISNb motor nerve to approach its muscle targets. We find that this turn requires Notch and its ligand Delta. We show that Delta is expressed on cells adjacent to the ISNb turning point, and we know from previous work that Notch is present on axonal growth cones, suggesting that Delta and Notch might provide a guidance signal to ISNb. To induce the turning of ISNb axons, Notch interacts genetically with multiple components of a signal transduction pathway that includes the Abl tyrosine kinase and its affiliated accessory proteins. In contrast, genetic interaction experiments fail to provide evidence for a major role of the "canonical" Notch/Su(H) signaling pathway in this process. We suggest that the Notch/Abl interaction promotes the turning of ISNb axons by attenuating the Abl-dependent adhesion of ISNb axons to their substratum, thus releasing the axons to respond to attraction from target muscles.